One of the things I often had to explain in the first half of the year was my answer to ‘how long are you staying in Germany?’ The answer is that I’m in Germany for 12 months, but broken up into a 7 and a 5 month block, with 10 weeks of Australian winter sandwiched between the beginning and end of the European summer. The reply to this was often: ‘wait, so you have winter when we have summer? Krass… (untranslatable)’ I’m now back in Germany, but first, a quick recap of the winter down under.
You could call it a winter of contrasts, with Falls Creek recording its coldest August in 26 years, and Melbourne its coldest winter in 26 years (although no one’s acknowledging the impact of the change in weather station). We had many sunny and cold days and plenty of great skiing. On the other hand, we didn’t have much natural snow until mid-July, the maximum snow depths were below average, and on no single day, at least in Falls Creek, was more than 20cm of new snow reported, thus you could say we didn’t really have any dumps of snow. Anyway enough weather nerdiness, time to move on to…
I think I did a total of 11 competitions, ranging from about 300m in the Lake Mountain SprintX to 34km of the shortened Kangaroo Hoppet. Highlights (not related to results) were:
- Managing to get completely soaked during the first lap of the KCros tour thanks to driving rain, finishing the second lap, and then running straight to the shower of the Perisher Nordic Shelter to try to warm up. As the only ‘athlete’ there, I was able to get out of the shower before the next finisher arrived.
- My 400m lap during the NSW night relays, held a couple of hours after the end of an intense blizzard on a sparkling night, with a temperture of about -7. After the race came a feast complete with my favourite Glühwein.
- Winning ‘best fall’ in the SprintX race at Lake Mountain, where I managed to get so tangled in a fence that I had to wait for people to come and help me to get free.
- Flying the flag for the National Team at the Sundeck Handicap, a fundraiser race held at Perisher to raise money for the Team. Thanks Cliff Wallis for your continuing support!
As for my more serious races, they were the four races comprising the Australian Championships, plus the Kangaroo Hoppet, Australia’s international ski marathon.
Nationals First Round
The first weekend of races was held at Perisher in late July, and on this particular weekend, despite a decent amount of snow, we were able to truly appreciate how Perisher received its name. The skate sprint was held in mostly good conditions, except for a gigantic snowdrift at the bottom of the hill, plus a howling wind across parts of the course. My race was nothing to treasure: I qualified 9th but ended up unlucky 13th after finals.
The next day was what I like to call ‘drift nationals’, which far from being a competition of Nissan Skylines and Subaru WRXs is actually what several Perisher distance races turn out as: a battle against the sometimes huge snowdrifts for which the trail system is (in)famous. My 10 km classic race was OK: I was caught by team-mate Jackson Bursill, who started 30 seconds behind, after the first, 5 km lap, and then skied with him for most of the second, even taking the lead up the ‘Finn Hill’, so called because National Team Manager Finn Marsland always stands half way up, in exactly the same place, every single year. It’s rumoured that his feet are actually glued to the ground there and he doesn’t move at all in the intervening 12 months. Unfortunately at the very top of the hill I almost ate the proverbial when I went off a 1 m high snowdrift, that I wasn’t able to see due to the driving snow and 80 km/h winds. I really should have known better because the drift was there on the first lap, but I guess distance racing makes you stop thinking straight.
At this point I decided it would be best to have someone lead me down, so I basically stepped aside and let Jackson go ahead of me, so I could see the drifts better and in the slight hope that he would hit a drift on the way down and I’d be able to put some time on then. Unfortunately I then lost a fair bit of time, but at least my skis and poles stayed in one piece (or is that four pieces?). In any case I finished 4th overall and 3rd Australian, earning myself a handy, kangaroo-shaped medal, my first for the open age class.
Nationals Second Round
These were held in mid-August at Falls Creek, and featured a classic sprint on a new course that was meant to encourage people to use classic skis and stride, instead of skate skis and double pole. It didn’t work, and most of the men decided to double-pole the course, including me. I qualified 12th, but earned myself my best FIS points (the points are a way of standardising races and results) in a classic sprint. Despite double poling being the right decision, I changed to striding for the heats, and was unable to get through to semi-finals, so held onto my 12th position, and exited the comp relatively early, making me fresher for the following day.
Sunday was a 15km skate race, which suits me well because distance skating is my thing. Despite having skis that were a little soft for the icy conditions on the first lap, as the course softened I gained time relative to most others, and skied to my best ever FIS point result of 105. I missed out on the podium by only 0.5 seconds, over a race time of 38 minutes, but I was still very pleased with how I skied. Finally I felt my training overseas was paying off, probably because I’d actually rested before this race instead of training through.
Despite weeks of cold conditions, the morning of the Hoppet dawned damp and foggy, the first day in 55 days that it hadn’t frozen overnight. We had escaped most of the feared rain, but the warm wind had ripped through the snow pack and our deep, dry snow was now pretty thin in places, so the road was starting to show underneath. The wind also caused the course to be shortened and flattened from 42km to 34km, which isn’t really great for me because I like hills and I like distance. The other thing I race well in is soft, slushy snow, thanks to my relatively light weight and low-power skiing, and we had this over the whole course.
Shortly after the start a front group had formed, of which I was a part, and then Valerio Leccardi from Switzerland made a break, with only Callum Watson (AUS) able to follow. Phil Bellingham (AUS) was shortly behind, and Paul Kovacs (AUS) and I were able to make a break from the rest. After 10km I had dropped PK and caught Phil, but then found myself in the situation of not being able to catch Callum. Unfortunately I had to lead Phil around the course, since he was happy to wait for whatever group was behind and then out-sprint them at the end. Since I’m no sprinter (have I mentioned that already?), it was in my interest to hold them off. Unfortunately, partly thanks to the fog meaning I couldn’t see them coming, we were caught by the chase group with about 7km to go. I was still leading this group, then eventually decided that I needed a break from the front if I was to have any chance of doing well in the sprint. I stood up, but no one went past. I skied a bit more, then stood up until we almost came to a stop, before skiing legend Anthony Evans took the lead. The race was then on, and after a few hectic kilometres there was much changing of lead with 1km to go. I ended up 2nd out of that pack, after Phil, and claimed 4th place overall. I tried to keep my fist pump at the end a little bit subtle but I’m sure people saw it.
Of course, racing is only half the story. I won’t write about training, but two adventures stand out.
- Mt Kosciuszko.
Eline, a visiting coach from France working in Perisher, very much wanted to ski to the top of Mt Kosciuszko, so I agreed to be her guide. I’d been up twice in Summer on foot, plus once in late August and once in October on skis. This was late July, and as I learnt this time the high mountains are no fun in winter. The wind and threatening weather were the least of our problems: large parts of the Main Range had been turned to ice by the wind, which left me at times worried I was about to fall more than a hundred metres, and in any case managed to blunt the edges on my skis. I was pretty spectacular and kind of cool to be up there in the middle of winter with no one else around, but I think spring skiing suits me better.
- Falls Creek to Mt Hotham and back
This was Jackson’s and my Adventure Number 5, and probably our easiest so far. It involved a ski, a run, a ski, a coffee and bacon-and-egg-roll, a ski, a run then a ski, for a total time of under 6 hours and just over 50km of extremely pleasurable skiing and running, on a cold sunny day with a thin layer of beautiful powder on top of a firm surface. It probably wasn’t the best Hoppet preparation, but was undoubtedly worth it.
I’m now back in the kind of hot German summer, doing many great adventures, but that is for another post in a month or so. It’s now full swing preparation for the European winter, only 3 months away!